How does product management differ between a small and large company?
A product management role varies from company to company, and size of the company is subjective. I will share my point of view, assuming a small company has less than 50 employees and a large company has more than 500 employees, in several dimensions.
Ownership and Scope
In large companies, product managers often own established areas, like a feature or feature sets. Large collaborations are required with other product managers for alignment and dependencies. It is unlikely to have opportunities to build something from 0 to 1 but more so to enhance or redefine the goals for features.
The scope of product management is also well defined as many functions, including product marketing, design, data science, content, and UX researchers, will support the product management function. If you want to focus on core product management, then it is a plus that you have great support functions.
In small companies, product managers often own business lines or several product areas. Also, figuring out a viable business model by identifying markets and capturing value from the target customers are critical. Thus, Product Managers need to find the market fit, carve out product solutions, and iterate quickly. The scope of product management is often broader, requiring them to lean in more with limited support, so they might need to analyze the market, conduct user research, form product and marketing strategy, define a product MVP, set up A/B testing and pull data themselves.
Product develop cycle, processes and collaboration
Large companies often have structured processes in place, so product managers can either follow or improve on them. A common challenge that product managers who work for larger companies have is to get consent on product direction from leadership and stakeholders. The development cycle for the product is longer as there is overhead to collaborate among many different teams and functions before product planning is finalized.
For small companies, it is highly possible the processes needed for many areas are ambiguous, and the product manager needs to build or enhance them quickly. While less effort is needed to get consent on product direction like product managers for large companies, the product managers for small companies need to figure out ways to come up with product direction using more limited market analysis, customer feedback and data than large companies might have.
Small or Large company?
Product managers who are mission driven, enjoy ambiguous work and a faster paced environment - and are excited to take more risk for bigger returns - are a good fit for small companies.
For ones who want to have a very well defined scope, enjoy following processes and need a stable income with a good work and life balance, large companies are more suitable for your needs.
I think the PM role can be very narrow when there are many fully staffed cross-functional partners with expertise across engineering / UX / testing / data / marketing, which leaves the PM as a dot connector and customer proxy (i.e. large company). And when many of those partner functions don't exist (i.e. small company), the PM can become a jack-of-all-trades.
Neither is better per se, they just offer different learning opportunitie.